Sexual Transgression and the Limits of the Atonement- Guest Madam Curie

guest Mormon 82 Comments

Before I was baptized LDS, I had a college boyfriend with whom I was sexually active. At the time, I was under enormous pressure from him and my entire circle of friends to be intimate with him. My friends told me that after a year of dating, he really “deserved” more intimacy from me than he was getting. But the fact was that I wasn’t attracted to him physically. After our first physical encounter, I cried for several days. This went on for some time, until I was emotionally numb from the experience. It was pretty traumatic, but I didn’t really think much of it at the time other than that I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Since my baptism “erased” the experience, it wasn’t brought up again until recently, when I told my husband about it. He kindly suggested that since I didn’t want to be physically intimate, it sounded as though I had been a victim of date rape. I told him that while I hadn’t wanted the intimacy, I didn’t fight it strongly and it wasn’t an isolated occasion. His response to me was that he preferred that I hadn’t enjoyed it, equating physical enjoyment of the sex act with whether something constitutes rape. He explained (and this is vital) that it wasn’t a matter of jealousy or not wanting me to be with another man; it was a matter of virtue and obedience to commandments. What I had heard him say was that he rather I had been raped than engaged voluntarily in pre-marital sex.

My reply was something like, “You would rather I had been violated in one of the worst ways a woman can be violated, than that I had made a mistake before I was baptized that would have been covered by the Atonement?” Obviously, he hadn’t thought of it like that before. But, it got me thinking. Although we pay lip service to the idea of the Atonement being all encompassing, clearly in our LDS mindset we have embedded ideas of things that really aren’t covered by it, or things that we don’t really think God forgives us or others for. Similar to Jonah thinking the people of Ninevah should be destroyed, even after they had repented. Clearly, my husband didn’t really think it would have been better that I had been hurt physically and psychologically than that I had made a mistake. But his subconscious response gives much more insight into the thought-process of one raised LDS than what the Church teaches on the topic.

What role has the book The Miracle of Forgiveness played in our understanding of what “forgiveness” for sexual sin really means?

Do you think there is emotional harm in placing premarital sexual relations nearly on-par with murder?

Do you think that it is better to be raped than to willingly engage in premarital sex?

Are there other limits that we subconsciously place on the Atonement?

Comments

comments

Comments 82

  1. Although we pay lip service to the idea of the Atonement being all encompassing, clearly in our LDS mindset we have embedded ideas of things that really aren’t covered by it, or things that we don’t really think God forgives us or others for. Similar to Jonah thinking the people of Ninevah should be destroyed, even after they had repented.

    That is nicely put. I’d have to admit that the book/movie Charlie has a lot of weak spots, but something it does well is address this topic (where the male lead’s mother chews him out).

    Do you think that it is better to be raped than to willingly engage in premarital sex Ouch. I’d rather no one went through rape. Or did violence to themselves.

    But even more important, for our own salvation, that no one place limits on the atonement.

  2. Small wonder that so many LDS couples have intimacy problems. These attitudes find their origin in the Victorian times the early leaders of the church came from, not the gospel. See Christ and the adulteress for a full refutation of the “next to murder” idea. The desire to ranks sins should be resisted.

  3. No other book by any General Authority has ever made me as depressed, despondent, or hopeless as this one by Spencer Kimball. I began calling it “The Mirage of Forgiveness” because he put so many fences and hedges around the law and made it seem that the work to prove oneself qualified for the benefits of the Atonement were simply beyond my reach. He made me think that what I now recognize as normal adolescent sexual development was so depraved that I would never be good enough.

  4. Wow, I’m glad I never read that book.

    This is yet another reason that I’m glad I married a convert even though I grew up in the church. If any man I was dating had ever said what your husband said, I would not have even stuck around for an explanation!

  5. Forgot to add – I thought the only thing that was outside the atonement was blasphemy – described as turning away from an actual knowledge of God. The way this was described to me, very few people are actually even capable of blasphemy because they don’t have a perfect knowledge.

  6. I have to agree with the mindset of many LDS raised people. I am one of them but I had the buffer of an
    Atheist Mother and an agnostic step-father. However, the book can be very difficult to get through the first two thirds where he makes you feel unforgivable and very crappy, It is the last third that makes it such a jewel. Only people who have had to read it and thoroughly applied its principles really feel good about reading it. Unless you can wrap your brain around the concept that you have been forgiven your own self punishment will always win out. Another author wrote a book, “Believe Christ”, he made a very important distinction between believing in Christ and actually believing what he said about the atonement and its power. Hardest thing for me to do when ever I feel the need to really repent is to allow myself to turn over the sin to the Saviour. The whole idea and concept that he would have had to suffer for my sins turns my stomach. I have a really difficult time allowing my brother who I know loved me enough to sacrifice his life for me and my family to have to suffer personally for my sins.

  7. Forgiveness means different things to different people. I can forgive someone for doing something that hurt me deeply. What comes harder is the level of trust it takes to allow a person back into your life after the
    y have hurt you.

    IMO I don’t think pre-marital sex is the same as murder. First of all you weren’t even a member of the church at that time period of your life. While you may have been living the law of chasity up to that point, you may not have fully understood the ramifications of that law. In addition, Men as a general rule, especially young men really don’t want to recognize the emotionality that the physical act of sex has on a woman. They often just think of the physical act of just doing it.

    It truly concerns and disturbs me that your husband wishes you would have been raped instead of recognizing the fact you were a healthy young woman with a sexual history prior to your union with him. I think maybe it might have been uncomfortable for him to have imagine you being with someone other than him and he would rather think of it in the terms he equated it to. I feel badly that while you told him the truth and were obviously embarrassed and upset by the situation that he (your husband) couldn’t offer you more support than he did. As his wife you have every right to expect, and deserve that from him

  8. After reading The Miracle of Forgiveness I came to the conclusion that it’s purpose was to enumerate every possible way that we could sin so that we would be without excuse, It was only in the last two chapters that forgiveness and the atonement were even addressed. I did not have the feeling after reading the book that forgiveness was a possibility or the atonement a reality. The idea of adultery/fornication being equivalent to murder has to do with the passage somewhere in the D&C, I think, that if you re offend after repentance, there’s no forgiveness. That, along with a number of other LDS teaching, is something I do not believe.

    I remember once counseling a distraught parent about her daughter who had been taken advantage at a party when she was drunk. She was fixated on the fact that her daughter wasn’t a “virgin” and that she was tainted when looking forward to marriage. I told her that what happened to her did not take away her virginity or make her any less a person.

    If there is a god and if the atonement is real, I’m convinced that our treatment come judgement will be very different than imagined by those whose interest is more in the law of justice than mercy.

  9. I wouldn’t put much stock in The Miracle of Forgiveness. President Kimball writes of how he would chastize any gay man until that man said he was now straight. Anyone with half reasoning would know how that tactic is unhelpful. He also went on to state that masturbation would lead one to become gay. No, I like what he did with the Native Americans and lifting the black priesthood ban, but I don’t follow his mentality on gays. The atonement is infinite which means it is without limits. That is what I focus on. I would not blame any woman who was pressured into sex by a boyfriend. I would fill that woman with lots of hope so she could move on with a good life.

  10. When I first found out my son was gay, I thought Miracle of Forgiveness would be a good place for me to start reading. I had not read it in probably 20 years. After reading chapter 6, I threw it away. Talk about going the wrong place for help.

  11. When I first found out my son was gay, I thought Miracle of Forgiveness would be a good place for me to start reading. I had not read it in probably 20 years. After reading chapter 6, I threw it away. Talk about going the wrong place for help.

    Holden:
    Why did you throw it away? Whatever your son’s experience may be, no one get a free pass to commit sexual sin. The world’s view is if it feels good do it. The Church’s view is almost always in opposition to the worldy view. Sexual sin, gay or straight, is deadly and will impact you for now and eternally. Have you or your son ever considered Evergreen International?

  12. What role has the book The Miracle of Forgiveness played in our understanding of what “forgiveness” for sexual sin really means?
    – It has so completely warped the LDS view of sexuality for an entire generation of leaders that I think it will take another 30-40 years to get over.

    Do you think there is emotional harm in placing premarital sexual relations nearly on-par with murder?
    – Absolutely. I don’t have the exact statistic, but I have heard that over 50% of LDS youth have sex before they are married. While this is lower than the general population, if this is placed similar to “murder”, that is crazy. If someone has a long-time partner with whom they are intimate, that is nowhere near murder.

    Do you think that it is better to be raped than to willingly engage in premarital sex?
    – Absolutely 100% NO NO NO. Rape is an act of violence. It is full of hate and lust and power. As above, if someone has a long-term partner, is in love with that person, and expresses that intimately, while not the ideal we teach, I would accept that much, much more. The person just needs a gentle course correction to move those same natural feelings and desires within the bounds of marriage.

    Are there other limits that we subconsciously place on the Atonement?
    – We place tremendous limits on the Atonement. Our religion is extremely full of check boxes. Church for 3 hours every week, check. Home teaching last month, check. White shirt for men, dress for women, check. Not a drop of alcohol, check. Table cloth and picture of Christ for my lesson, check. Check, check, check. We talk so much about actions. We are judged so much on actions for callings and temple recommends and everything else. We lose out on the power of the Atonement – grace from Christ. We become much less accepting of ourselves and less accepting of the Atonement. In many ways, I envy non-LDS religions with the attitude, I am saved in Christ. His grace is sufficient. I am a sinner, but I’m making my way through the world. But I know Christ loves me. I think much of that is lost in our faith.

  13. I have never read The Miracle of Forgiveness, as youth and missionary we were counseled not to. I think there are many who have read the book that see very little value in it. Read the New Testament, the words of Christ carry the healing power many require.

    I try to live by the counsel “you will be judged by how you judge others”. If I can strive to forgive all, then hopefully I will be worthy of forgiveness when I need it.

  14. Mike S:
    Think of what church members are going for. Exaltation. Don’t you think that requires a huge price? President Benson said to never take your eyes off the prize. Exaltation.

  15. Harold in #2 brings up an excellent point. A woman brought to Jesus caught in adultery and he simply tells her to sin no more. If sexual sin was next to murder, then murder must not be that bad.

    Do you think there is emotional harm in placing premarital sexual relations nearly on-par with murder?

    Do you think that it is better to be raped than to willingly engage in premarital sex?

    Are there other limits that we subconsciously place on the Atonement?

    1. Yes!

    2. No!

    3. All sorts, most based on our preconceived notions.

  16. MR Q and A
    One job of prophers is to tell it like it is. One aspect of this topic that concerns me is some church members encouraging people in sexual sin, I.E. same sex relations/same sex marriage. Does anyone think that members who encourage this behavior will be complicit when that person is denied their exaltation because of how they chose to live their life? The 3 top sins are denying the Holy Ghost, shedding innocent blood, and sexual sin. Who do you think made this list? If this is of man, it will come to naught. But if not.

  17. GBSmith

    #8,

    The idea of adultery/fornication being equivalent to murder has to do with the passage somewhere in the D&C, I think, that if you re offend after repentance, there’s no forgiveness. That, along with a number of other LDS teaching, is something I do not believe.

    It comes from Alma when he chides his son Corianton who spent some time with a harlot while in the service of God. Now maybe Alma was talking about having sex as a missionary being a sin next to murder. Whatever the case may be, it seems somehow wrong to tell your children that they were born while their parents were committing a sin equated with murder, that they are the product of a sinful act.

    Furthermore, the church really does not treat sexual transgression anywhere close to the same level as they do murder. Take for instance baptizing people who committed murder. How often has that happened? Yet how often has it happened that people are baptized who previously had transgressed sexually?

    As for the OP, there is something fundamentally wrong with the thinking that a woman should rather take it as rape than as consensual. No man is counseled to do the same because no man is put in that situation. No woman should be counseled to do that.

  18. Henry,

    #16,

    One aspect of this topic that concerns me is some church members encouraging people in sexual sin, I.E. same sex relations/same sex marriage.

    Who is encouraging sexual sin?

    Does anyone think that members who encourage this behavior will be complicit when that person is denied their exaltation because of how they chose to live their life? The 3 top sins are denying the Holy Ghost, shedding innocent blood, and sexual sin. Who do you think made this list? If this is of man, it will come to naught. But if not.

    I’m drawing a blank. Can you refresh my memory? Who made that list?

  19. #11-Henry

    “Why did you throw it away? Whatever your son’s experience may be, no one get a free pass to commit sexual sin. The world’s view is if it feels good do it. The Church’s view is almost always in opposition to the worldy view. Sexual sin, gay or straight, is deadly and will impact you for now and eternally. Have you or your son ever considered Evergreen International?”

    Henry, my remarks and comments on MM are always short and sweet. I don’t like to spend much time commenting. A complete response to your question is not practical. What I will say is I have spent the last three years of my life researching homosexuality, speaking with gay men and sadly reading church leaders’ uninformed views on homosexuality. I have literally spent thousands of hours trying to gather information and spiritual healing on the subject.

    I threw the book away because it heartlessly condemned gays without showing a shred of understanding of the issue, complete with name-calling. Henry, you may be interested to know that Spencer Kimball, in his last days, confided to his son biographer that he felt he “may have been too harsh” on gays in MoF. Unfortunately, for all the gay LDS men who read that book earnestly searching for spiritual guidance, there is no errata page to that effect. That mea culpa, even if given publicly, would have been too little, too late for the LDS gay men who read it searching for help and ended reading it thinking they would be better off dead.

    I have personally talked to one gay LDS man who, because of reading MoF, contemplated suicide.

    I have been to two Evergreen conferences. The last time I went I decided I would never go again. The NARTH literature available there insisted gays are not born gay. With all of the time I have spent talking to gays, I believe many/most are. I once ask my son if he ever had a dream about being with a girl. When he said “never”, I never looked back on the issue of “born that way”. I had my answer.

    I’m not interested in getting into a conversation regarding their “sinful” way of life. It’s their decision for their own pursuit of happiness. If all priesthood holders were suddenly turned gay (having the same intense feelings they have for women now changed to exclusive, intense feelings for men) in their 20s, there would not be enough “worthy” men left to fill a sunday school presidency after decades of trying to be celibate. Those who do not understand the issue always have the easiest responses to how a gay LDS man should live.

  20. Holden:
    Whatever the experience, it is not good to encourage someone to participate in sexual sin. I understand that we do not understand everything in this life but Satan is ever watchful and mindful of us just like Christ is. But he wants something totally different for us that what Christ does. If a gay man is suicical and wants to jump off a bridge, Satan will be there to push him off. Christ will put his hand on his shoulder and will lovingly coax him down. While not removing his burden, he will reassure him of his love and that if he is faithful and will not commit major sin, all will be well in the end.
    Even if a young man is suicidal over this issue, no one gets a free pass to commit sexual sin. It’s just not available.

  21. Henry,

    #20,

    Christ will put his hand on his shoulder and will lovingly coax him down. While not removing his burden, he will reassure him of his love and that if he is faithful and will not commit major sin, all will be well in the end.

    I think Holden’s point is that MoF doesn’t succeed in conveying this message particularly to gays. No human being should feel the need to go to the edge of a bridge and consider jumping off and being saved in the nick of time by the Savior’s loving grasp. Where was the Savior when the man or woman began contemplating suicide to lovingly coax them away from that thought?

  22. Dan:
    We are given free agency but we are not free from the consequences of our choices. There are 2 forces at work here one encouraging and the other discouraging. Christ is the ultimate savior while Satan is the ultimate destroyer. Satan will make sin seen beatiful and will attempt to recruit our friends and family into his camp.
    Madam Curie:
    That one about choosing to be raped or going willingly. That’s a tough one.

  23. Dan:
    If Christ is not the ultimate orginator of the 3 top sins, who do you think is? There is not room enough in the scriptures to spell out every meaning and nuance.

  24. Henry you are disappointing me. Com’on dude. It’s not that hard. Give me a scripture. Show me the passage. You make the charge that the Savior ranked them in that order. I merely ask you for your reference.

    As for #24, I think you missed my point in #23. You said that the Savior would approach the gay man who is standing on the bridge about to jump off, coaxing him down. I ask, where is the Savior one day before when the gay man pondered on the decision to go to the bridge? Why isn’t the Savior there in that conflict so the gay man doesn’t even have to go to the bridge? I ask this because I believe the MoF fails in its job to convince its readers that though sinners, everything will be alright. And this is particularly true for gays. I’d be curious to know if the statistic is found anywhere of how many gay LDS men commit suicide, or consider committing suicide after reading Miracle of Forgiveness.

  25. Since I have to get going to do other things, here are the two important references

    Matthew 12:31

    31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

    and Alma 39:5-6

    5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?
    6 For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness; yea, I say unto you, my son, that it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.

    So it seems that Alma is the originator of the Top 3 rule. But Alma seems to be talking about something specific, if we read earlier:

    3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
    4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.

    It seems the grievous part is that he did forsake the ministry to spend time with a harlot, and not consensual sexual relations. It’s not like Alma is telling his son that Corianton’s relations with his girlfriend were next to murder in seriousness.

  26. Henry #24 ???

    “That one about choosing to be raped or going willingly. That’s a tough one.”

    Is that sarcasm ?

    Are you deliberating over which God would choose, Suffering Rape or engaging in pre-marital sex?

    You refer to the “top 3 sins” denying HG, shedding innocent blood and sexual sin. There are many varieties of sexual sin from rape to impure thoughts, are you suggesting that all sexual sin is one and the same in the eye of God?

    If you believe God is our Father in Heaven, If you believe he weeps because of the suffering of his children then the choice is simple. Whilst someone who is raped is innocent of any wrong doing, I don’t think you can compare the two because of the emotional damage involved.

  27. I hate, hate, hated the Mof because there was so little forgiveness in it. But, my viewpoint was soften a little when a good friend explained that when he was going through the repentence process, it helped him experience “godly sorrow”. So now, I see it as a Camel-hair shirt. and if that helps some people feel forgiven, I’m okay with it.

  28. While Christ may have his hand on one’s shoulder ready to coax some one down, some church leaders seem to have a hand on the shoulder pushing:

    Marion G Romney, Ensign, Sept 1983

    “You young people—May I directly entreat you to be chaste. Please believe me when I say that chastity is worth more than life itself. This is the doctrine my parents taught me; it is truth. Better die chaste than live unchaste. The salvation of your very souls is concerned in this.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1938, pp. 137–38.) Now, my dear friends, I know there is nothing new in what I have said. These things are time-tested; they are true.”

    Later in the article, he said “Some years ago the First Presidency said to the youth of the Church that a person would be better dead clean than alive unclean.”

    Next, from Bruce R McConkie:

    “Better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction, ‘I would rather have you come back home in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it’ ” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Second Edition, Page 124.)

    This “instruction” speaks for itself. Editoralizing with passionate adjectives can’t increase the horror of these statements. Hyperbole is one of my favorite tools to communicate. Church leaders have no business utilizing it when discussing such topics. The scary thing is that I don’t think they were, in their own minds, using hyperbole but distributing eternal truths.

  29. Years ago as a missionary I met a young man who felt he he had repented and been forgiven for fornication but then had re offended. He believed that there was no forgiveness for him and there was no reason for him to try and repent or come back to church. He was convinced that he had one chance and had blown it and I as an all wise 20 year old couldn’t think of a way to change his mind because that’s what I’ve been taught as well. Here was something that Christ and Father in Heaven couldn’t do. The feeling of God as disappointed and unable to help is a feeling I’ve had all my life.

    Henry, it sounds like you’ve got it figured out and are on the right track. Pray for the rest of us.

  30. Thanks for comments, everyone. There is some great stuff here. I hadn’t even thought of the issue of homosexuality when writing this post, but commenters who have brought it have are right – the Miracle of Forgiveness has a lot to say on that issue as well, and it ain’t pretty. Just to respond to a few of the comments:

    @ Stephen M (#1) – I actually haven’t read or seen Charlie, but my husband has, and uses examples from it fairly frequently when we are discussing such topics. I’m not terribly interested in seeing the movie itself, but I have gathered from conversations with my DH what you are referring to.

    @ E.D. (#4) – My husband is a good man. I know him well enough and long enough that I realized he didn’t mean what I heard.

    @ Dan (#6)– Do you think it was necessary for Pres. Kimball to make people feel like crap in MoF (first 2/3) before offering them the way to forgiveness (last 1/3)? I think most individuals tend to beat themselves up enough that they don’t need someone else piling it on higher and deeper.

    @ Dblock (#7) – I appreciate your concern for me. I am actually fine, much of the conversation was me misunderstanding what my husband was saying/believed. And there is a whole lot more conversation that surrounded this than what is printed here. Our conversation just elucidated some interesting things about the way Mormons are raised to think from infancy about premarital sex – hence the post.

    @ GBSmith (#8)If there is a god and if the atonement is real, I’m convinced that our treatment come judgement will be very different than imagined by those whose interest is more in the law of justice than mercy. Well stated. Agreed.

    @ Mitch (#9)I would fill that woman with lots of hope so she could move on with a good life. I hope I can raise my daughters with that attitude!

    @ Mike (#12)The person just needs a gentle course correction to move those same natural feelings and desires within the bounds of marriage. Interesting that you would say that. While I largely agree with you, in my case I didn’t want to be with this guy. So my Branch President’s recommendation of marriage when I later slipped up again was unhelpful. I seriously thought he was suggesting marriage as a punishment, rather than a goal.

    @ Henry (#24)That one about choosing to be raped or going willingly. That’s a tough one. Actually, its a no-brainer.

  31. Everyone, please don’t feed the trolls! It pollutes the discussion for all of us. From Wikipedia:

    In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

    DNFTT

  32. When I read this post what comes to my mind is the intent of those seeking pre marital relations. It is something that most people have to deal with in the world and the Lord if fully aware of it. He knows that a great majority of His children are going to engage in pre-marital sex and not just with one person, but more likely several people. If it is considered so serious and horrific then I place accountability on the Lord for not getting the word out a little better. He has to be accountable for teaching His children and if so many grow up in a home where abstinence is not taught or considered important then obviously many are going to “sin”. Is it a sin if you don’t know any different? I don’t think so. We all do the best we can with what we are given.

    I know that in relation to some of my friends they were pressured incessantly by boyfriends to sleep with them. Of those that did, I place more accountability on the guy, not excusing the girl completely of course, but when a guy knows better and continually pressures a girl, I consider him the greater offender. I think it can be the other way around as well. Some women work hard to get a man to pay attention to them sexually and of course the man is accountable for what he chooses to do, but if a woman knows that he is unavailable and continues to do what she is doing, she has greater accountability. I really think intent is a huge part of sexual trangression. To me it is totally different for a couple who is truly in love and just wants to be together then a guy and girl who don’t really care much about each other and are just seeking personal pleasure. I have no doubt the Lord takes all of this into account and looks directly into the heart and the intentions of those involved. People make mistakes and God is very forgiving. The problem lies with us when it comes to not forgiving. God is capable of making people whole emotionally, spiritually and physically. It is us who places limitations on each other, thinking we are one thing when God has made us something else. Every experience we have in life, good or bad, can teach us something and we can learn from it and become better people. Sexual sin is serious, yes, but it is not the end of the world. God is willing to forgive and forget and we need to be too.

  33. Around the time MoF was published, it was quite common to hear church members proclaim, “Your virtue is worth more than your life.” If that’s the case, then how much more valuable is one’s virtue than the life of the one who is trying to take it away by force? Too bad you never heard anybody proclaim from the pulpit, “Girls, keep a switchblade on you at all times, and if anybody tries to sully your precious flower, send the SOB to the spirit world!”

  34. Also, some time ago I chucked MoF in the garbage–didn’t even take it to Goodwill, because I didn’t want anybody else to absorb the guilt complex that the book imposed. I was more than happy to replace it with “Believing Christ” on the bookshelf.

  35. #32: Madame Curie

    I didn’t necessarily mean that someone should necessarily marry someone with whom they are having pre-marital sex, but that the expression of the intimacy itself be moved within marriage. It may be with that person, or it may be with someone else. That’s what I meant.

    Interestingly, in Buddhism and its teachings on sex, it’s largely the intent than the act that is condemned. They would consider a man using coercion to have sex with a woman to be wrong, even if it’s not to the extent of “rape”, and even if it’s within marriage. They would consider sex purely for gratification also wrong. But between two loving, committed, and consenting adults it’s ok, married or not, and technically of the same or opposite sexes (although homosexuality is still frowned upon culturally in some predominantly Buddhist cultures). So, while we may condemn the Buddhist way of thinking as it doesn’t “forbid” premarital sex, in many ways it does encourage much more respect between partners.

  36. #37 Lee:

    Our prior stake president as well as the last bishop I was a counselor to used to give out MoF to all people who went through disciplinary councils. Happening without exception, it seemed as if it was an obligatory part of the councils.

    Our current stake president, like you, prefers “Believing Christ” and, when appropriate, gives that book to those who might be helped by it.

  37. Whether or not sexual sins are equivalent to murder depends on whether or not people actually die — physically or spiritually, directly or indirectly, through sins of omission or sins of commission.

    But that also suggests that the same standards need to apply for non-sexual sins as well. When we don’t narrow the scope artificially, we suddenly realize why the atonement has to be infinite. The price WE are willing to pay personally is always less than it would take to save people whom God loves as much as He loves us. What would each of us have to do to prevent the deaths occurring in Haiti or Iran or Burma or Darfur or Baltimore or (choose your own)? When we see it that starkly, we see that we cannot be innocent. We can only be complicit to greater or lesser degrees — but arguing about degrees of complicity saves no one, even ourselves.

    Measuring ourselves along the standard of guilt or innocence is a fool’s game. The atonement doesn’t change where we measure ourselves along the guilt-innocence standard; it replaces Law with Grace, and makes our fate about the actions of God, not primarily about the actions of us.

  38. It’s clear to me that Henry’s answers do not feel me with the spirit because he is someone I would not want to sit by in a ward dinner party. No offense. I see he has all the answers but does not know what questions to ask. Holden Caulfield, who I would enjoy sitting next to in a chili cookout, fills me more with the spirit.

  39. I was so confused for so long — I thought MoF was MoFo, or some such equivalent — but MoF is a MoFoe of a book (Foe to Mormonism, is what I mean). What it does to sexual activity — a normal, human activity — from which we all sprang and without which none of us would be here and turns us into guilt ridden, sex-phobes.

    Ever been the victim of adultery? It isn’t the insertion of parts that hurts, it is the betrayal. The sin is in what you do to other people when you engage in sexual activity. Can you do it without harm? That would be a better measure than turning our girls into men hating, switch blade toting virgin freaks who can’t quite figure out why they get that warm tingle that isn’t the spirit and our boys into insensitive brutes who somehow think that sex is a commodity that you don’t want to buy used, rather than an act of love and passion, and a tainted woman is beneath them.

    What about the sin of MoF? The sin of thrusting guilt front and center into one of the most pleasurable aspects of being human, the act that bonds us and creates our progeny. If you are a believer, then the atonement would cover that too. And don’t forget, the sacrament covenant is the same as the baptism covenant and you are reborn every Sunday sinless if you partake of the bread and water and are not saying stupid things like rape is somehow preferable to a pleasurable romp in the hay between consenting teenagers, because then you would have to wait until next Sunday for that sin to get wiped away.

    As for me, I like the at-one-ment that really heals my soul and baptizes me anew and that is the at-one-ment with my lover.

  40. #41: Mitch

    I agree. I think it has to do with an outlook on the world. Henry’s views seem fairly black and white. Something is right or it is wrong, and that’s that. Holden’s views seem more nuanced, or shades of grey, accepting that things aren’t always black and white. In my experience, life rarely tends to fit in compartmentalized little boxes. We have to choose between 2 non-ideal situations. We have to have empathy and imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

  41. “Do you think that it is better to be raped than to willingly engage in premarital sex ”

    This is comparing apples & oranges. Reason is because rape is a crime/sin of violence and power while fornication is about morality.

    I wish all people would finally realize that. If you compare things then rape is akin to assault causing grievous bodily harm, while fornication is related to adultery etc. ie first has nothing to do with a real sexual relationship while the second is everything about real sex.

    Problem though with fornication is that one needs to admit first that it is wrong and most people nowadays just refuse to do so, or refuse to take that first step towards repentance.

  42. President Kimball and his Miracle of Forgiveness, for me, represented the “high point” (or “low point”) of toxic perfectionistic we-must-save-ourselves mentality in the Church. President Benson, with his call to return to and focus of the Book of Mormon, with its more grace and Christ-centered message, changed that direction.

    Two recent publications of Deseret Book, to me, underscore the change in the Church’s direction to a focus on grace and on hope: Alonzo Gaskill’s Odds Are, You’re Going to Be Exalted: Evidence That the Plan of Salvation Works, and Anthony Sweat’s I’m Not Perfect, Can I Still Go to Heaven. It is hard for me to imagine either of these titles being published by a Church owned publisher in the 1970s.

  43. @ Carlos (#44)“Do you think that it is better to be raped than to willingly engage in premarital sex ”

    This is comparing apples & oranges. Reason is because rape is a crime/sin of violence and power while fornication is about morality.

    I wish all people would finally realize that. If you compare things then rape is akin to assault causing grievous bodily harm, while fornication is related to adultery etc. ie first has nothing to do with a real sexual relationship while the second is everything about real sex.

    I agree with you, in an ideal situation where it is clear one is comparing rape to consensual sex. The problem is, life is messy, and the line between consensual and non-consensual is often blurry in the real world, as illustrated in the OP.

  44. I agree with several of the comments above. MoF was the book that made me feel horrible about myself for years (and sometimes still do) because of past sins. Even my hard-to-control adolescent thoughts apparently were enough to condemn me eternally. The last couple of chapters didn’t really help–the book had already cemented in mind my abject awfulness and lack of character. Thoroughly convinced that I had already blown my chance to truly repent, the last few chapters became totally meaningless for me and I was left to despair my own pathetic situation.

    I think many people accept the mentality of MoF because we are taught to believe that old-school emotional self-mutilation is necessary for true repentance. Also, it’s a book that draws very thick lines for people and removes all gray area in defining sin. MoF provides “the list” of ways you can sin, so then if you just avoid those you must be ok. Almost feels like a Law of Moses throwback, with 613 different ways to be a sinner. It also helps the self-righteous to point fingers and establish who the real sinners are. It’s a weak way to live your religion, because it requires very little actual thought or consideration on your part. It’s checklist-righteousness at its very worst.

    But on my mission I was introduced to “Believing Christ” and probably read that book four or five times because of the beautiful and simple message that it shares. That book brought me far more self-forgiveness and understanding of the atonement than MoF ever could. It achieved this by explaining how the atonement works and helping me understand how to apply it every day. That’s really all I need. You don’t have to give me a list–I’m plenty smart and I know when I’ve made a mistake that needs correction. And I should certainly not be too concerned with pointing out the sins of others. I’ve got way too much to work on myself. What I need is to understand how easy it really can be, and how Christ’s atonement is available to me NO MATTER WHAT I DO WRONG. We are the presumptuous people who try to place limits on Christ’s atonement. MoF did a fantastic job of exactly that, regardless of whether that was the actual intent. What a shame.

  45. I kinda get what your husband meant. Whether you choose to sleep with someone or be raped kind of says who you are as well as who you will become.
    If I choose to have an extra-marital affair, what does that say about me and my choices? How does that affect my marriage, my family, my soul, my future?
    If I get raped, what does that say about me and my choices (nothing bad)? How does that affect my marriage, my family, my soul, my future?
    Both situations would bring a world of hurt. But I absolutely refuse to ever prefer a consensual affair. I would rather be raped. And my husband would be devastated at either, but I am convinced he could help me deal with the aftermath of a rape, I don’t know how willing he would be about the aftermath of an affair and the repentance process.
    However, that really isn’t what your husband meant. He was more concerned about the fact that you were pressured for sex and it was traumatic for you.

  46. @ jks (#49)– I appreciate your point, but I think you missed a vital component, which is that this wasn’t an extramarital affair – this was premarital intimacy with a college boyfriend before I was baptized LDS and about 5 years before I had even met my husband.

    Outside of that issue, though, I think I would prefer that my daughter have pre-marital sex than that she be raped. Why? Because the psychological repercussions of rape are likely to negatively effect her understanding of men and of sex for years. At least in the case of consensual premarital sex, any consequences are of her own agency.

  47. MC,that was a brave post,I guess you knew what would be coming your way.Big womanpoints for doing it anyway,and respect to your DH for getting his head around what seems to be a deeply ingrained attitude with mormon men of a certain generation.

    I’m hoping none of us would prefer to have a child returned to us in a wooden box than to have compromised their chastity.Together,we can work on it.I still can’t believe anyone actually said that,alongside preaching repentance.I guess it takes us human beings a while to join up the dots.

  48. “…the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. This was the Prophet Joseph Smith’s statement. He testified that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion…”

    The reason the Book of Mormon is our central scripture, based on my experience with it, is the “Doctrine of Christ”. The Doctrine of Christ is taught powerfully in 2 Nephi 31 and 32.

    I know by sacred experience that end result of the Doctrine of Christ is to receive a remission of sins. This is the reason we were baptized.

  49. It is Paul, who first says, that if you return back to your old ways, you “crucify Christ unto” yourself. This was repeated in the D&C. That sexual immorality is second only to taking life comes from the BofM (Alma to his son Corianton).

    Repentance, obviously, is not something to be trifled with. Meaning, if you coldly calculate that you’ll do such and such things and then just run to the bishop and confess and promise to repent, all is well again and you are free to repeat the process as often as you please, you are very wrong indeed.

    But the idea that immorality ranks high is natural, since you’re playing with the gift of life itself. And “ranking” sins is natural, since nobody obviously thinks that a minor slip equals premeditated murder, for example. But yes, any sin is a sin, and needs repentance, so from that point, ranking is futile.

    As for people having this idea that the Atonement doesn’t really cover all sins; that is just something I can’t explain. I remember my wife (who, like me, was a young convert) telling about running into an idea, that since she had lived like any other youth in the 1970s, she was somehow “less virtuous” than someone, who had never done things like that (that was according to some of her life-long LDS friends). Those people obviously don’t believe in the Atonement and forgiveness. I think the greater sin rests on them.

    I think Miracle of Forgiveness wants to cover a lot of ways that people talk themselves into excusing sins. But really, if you read the part about forgiveness, yes, it is miraculous. And no, repentance is not easy. That is one reason one shouldn’t trifle with it.

  50. MC, terrific post. Thanks.

    That anyone would be concerned about premarital sex of a college aged person prior to baptism is amazing to me.

    I have sat in more than one meeting and heard President Packer (about as conservative as they come) say that all sins are forgiveable. In one meeting, a “live” priesthood leadership meeting, he clarified that no one in that room, which included a 70 and multiple stake presidents, had enough knowledge to deny the Holy Ghost.

    As for ranking sins — seems the top two commandments are clear: Love God, Love our Fellow man. Seems the top sins would follow suit.

    Was Corianton’s sin next to murder his fornication, fornication while a missionary, or the fact that his actions made others no longer listen to the gospel as taught by his father?

    As for MoF, I have read it more than once. I agree it is quite direct. But I did find the final chapters quite hopeful. (But that’s just me.) The atonement is for all of us. And all of us are sinners. We should not assume that missing “the big three” will be “enough”, as long as we only engage in “minor” sin.

    Instead of calculating how much sin we can commit and still qualify, it might be better to focus on how much good we can do for others and for the Lord.

  51. MC, yes, pre-marital sex is FAR different than extra-marital sex. So when Mormons say it is next to murder I’d say they think of an extra-marital affair being next to murder, with pre-marital sex being on a less serious rung.
    So if we are talking about where these “Mormon” ideas come from, I think we have to point to the marriage vows. Like the pine box thing. I’d rather my husband die and know that he loved me and always respected our marriage than have him cheat on me and leave his family. Some people would think it is wrong to think that way (especially if kids lose their dad) but I still think there are some legitimate pros to my husband dying over him cheating.
    Again, I’m talking extra-marital sex not pre-marital sex. But I think that we have been conditioned by society to think pre-marital sex is no big deal nowadays and what you do before your marriage doesn’t affect your spouse.
    However, when you grow up understanding the importance of marriage, you do feel like what you do now affects your future. The youth of the church are taught to learn to make good choices now because it affects your preparation for your future as a missionary, spouse, mother, etc.
    Repentance and forgiveness and the atonement is all good. However, the Prodigal Son really did waste all of his inheritance. What we can’t expect is that the Atonement erases all mortal consequences of the sin.
    If you marry someone who racked up 60K in credit card debt and has repented and changed they still come with that debt. When you marry them you still have to deal with the debt. However, this is mortality and some people break the law and get caught and go to jail, some people break the law and escape many mortal consequences. Some people get an STD or get pregnant from their pre-marital sex so their consequences are lifelong and some don’t.
    As a parent, which would I rather? Is it really far fetched to say a parent would rather a child die having lived a righteous life than have a child turn to say a life of drug abuse, homelessness and prostitution? Yes, I am making it more serious than pre-marital sex with a significant other because nowadays that is socially acceptable so it sounds horrible to prefer their death to it. I can guarantee that when it comes down to it, most parents would prefer their child had died than become a sexual predator. Despite the Atonement there are some things that are too difficult to live with.
    I still fully believe that the Atonement covers all sins. Whatever mistake I make, the Atonement can spiritually heal me and the ones I hurt. We are all the Prodigal Son, even if we sometimes feel like we are the other son, we have to realize that we really are the prodigal.
    I also believe the Atonement heals us in other ways.

  52. Are there other limits that we subconsciously place on the Atonement?

    Suppose I cut off my hand. Eventually, I will get my hand back (in the resurrection), due to the power of the Atonement. In the meantime, it is highly likely that I will be without a hand. Some people might consider that a practical limitation on the Atonement.

    Now suppose that I have repented and have developed an abiding faith in the future restoration of my hand. In the mean time, I still have to live with the frustrations of living without one. And certainly there is divine assistance (through the power of the At-one-ment) to be able to bear gracefully the burden of not having a hand.

    But in most individuals, even in those of strong faith, is that assistance, combined with the ability to receive it, likely to be so substantial that the prior loss of a hand is a matter of small consequence? That might be considered a limitation on the effective power of the Atonement, even if a self imposed one.

    The scriptures say that in the end the Savior will “wipe the tears from [our] eyes”. But how many tears in between might be avoided if people didn’t have an idle conception of the sorts of problems the Atonement can make immediate compensation for.

    Someone commits a sin, repents, is forgiven. The injury, though, can take some considerable time to heal, even with a plenitude of heavenly assistance.

  53. 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

    Break free of the man made bondage you are under… Give your lives to Jesus Christ and then read your Bibles!

  54. Do you think there is emotional harm in placing premarital sexual relations nearly on-par with murder?

    Yes. The comparison isn’t proper in part because in murder the harm is certain and accomplished, where pre-marital sex is more like reckless endangerment.

    Do you think that it is better to be raped than to willingly engage in premarital sex?

    In general, that is a false dichotomy. What possible situation other than an imminent rape could put a person in the position of choosing between the two alternatives?

    It is like saying “which is better to be struck by lightning, or to drive down the wrong side of the freeway?”. Does it matter?

  55. Are there other limits that we subconsciously place on the Atonement?

    I’m not sure, but I’m starting to think that the Church places real limits on the Atonement. I think I’m the one who misunderstands the Atonement.

    I saw the Atonement as being the purest example of Love, the point being it surpasses the Law.

    Elder Dallin H. Oaks – Love and Law. This talk really made me sit up and think, the key premise is “The love of God does not supersede His laws and His commandments…”

    A key example that Elder Oaks uses to show how some can misunderstand the relationship between love and law

    A young adult in a cohabitation relationship tells grieving parents, “If you really loved me, you would accept me and my partner just like you accept your married children.”

    I think this talk echoes this point of the post “Do you think that it is better to be raped than to willingly engage in premarital sex?”

    I would suggest reading the entire talk, Elder Oaks makes some very good points

  56. I have not had time to read all comments, but wanted to respond.

    I think that Pres. Kimball’s comments are rooted in a much older tradition of atonement theory which goes back to ideas around Penal Substitution (someone else can be punished on our behalf) and Satisfaction theories (God’s honour justice must be appeased) but these I believe are based on a different concept of Justice than the one taught in the book of Mormon (restoration of good for that which is good). Therefore there is this idea that pervades Western Christianity that God must punish those who have committed sin (He is Justice) but because Christ loved us he suffers the punishment instead (He is Mercy) i think this leads to a warped view of the atonement.

  57. Rico #60

    To me Elder Oak’s talk spells a return to Pres. Kimball’s line of thinking, and has caused me to reassess my personal views on the Atonement.

    “In other words, the kingdom of glory to which the Final Judgment assigns us is not determined by love but by the law that God has invoked in His plan to qualify us for eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).”

    I’m not sure where I stand anymore. This type of teaching would echo the “better to die with your virtue intact”.

  58. I think this kind of statement fits in with the law of restoration. We determine where we will be by what we do, by the lives we live. I am not sure why E. Oaks feels the need to separate and oppose love and law. I am not sure I agree. I will have to read the whole talk. But my initial impression is that (and this my reading placed into this text) God’s love cannot force us into a loving realtionship with him (this relationship of unity and love is what allows to be in the celestial kingdom). So although he is willing to forgive us, unless we are willing to repent of our sins and enter into that covenant relationship then we cannot live the type of life that brings us into God’s presence. I feel confident that E. Oaks is not trying to argue that it is better to die than with your virtue in tact, but rather that we cannot just live our lives however we choose and expect that divine/unifying type of relationship that brings God’s power, light and life into our lives. However, I sense that by focussing on the law in this abstract (jurisprudence) sense we inadvertantly reproduce these old myths/metaphors about (legal) justice and mercy, like the mediator and the school-teacher parables.

  59. I read Elder Oakes talk and it didn’t seem complex at all. You keep the commandments and God loves you and if you don’t keep the commandments He still loves you but his hands are tied. You are SOL.

    It does remind me of something that happened to me a number of years ago. I was chatting with my neighbor, a Lutheran pastor and for some reason I mentioned the “I the Lord am bound…” scripture. He didn’t say anything about it but the next Sunday when I went to hear him preach part of his sermon had to do, in quite strong terms, with how wrong it was for someone to think that they could bind God. My impression is that for him it was simple. Faith and God’s mercy. No other legalisms. God loves you, Christ died for you, faith will alone will save you. I suppose we’ll all find out one way or another.

  60. I know I didn’t like Elder Oaks’ talk all that much, mostly because it focused so heavily on the legalism and justice. I tend to think God is far more forgiving and loving than we give Him credit of being, the Atonement is more encompassing, and faith in Christ really is sufficient.

    I think there is an uncomfortable balance between works and faith. As Mormons, we tend to place a lot more weight on works. As a result, we are known as being hard-working and clean-cut as a people. However, Utah also has the highest rate of clinical depression in the nation. I think that the focus on justice tends to place strict rules on God’s love, and the role of faith in the process. Catholics do the same thing, while born-again Christians are blamed of trusting in faith to save them, even if they live unholy lives (not saying they do… just stating the stereotype).

    We are definitely limited by our being human. I don’t think that the true idea of an infinite Atonement is possible by essentially finite minds.

  61. I had not thought of Elder Oaks’ talk in this connection. Thanks to those who brought it up and encouraged me to ponder it again.

    I found Elder Oaks’ talk to be multifaceted. That is, depending how I came at the talk, I saw different things. As the parent of adult children who are not keeping their baptismal covenants, I have to decide how I will receive them in my home and how our famly will function (or how I will function around them, anyway).

    In his talk, Elder Oaks offered me not such clear advice, except that such decisions should be taken with great divine counsel (meaning, I think, prayer and pondering and studying, etc), suggesting there is not a cookie-cutter approach to the issue.

    Whether God is bound or not is God’s choice, not mine, nor Elder Oaks’. (Nor do I believe for a minute that Elder Oaks supposes to tell God how to behave.) He (God) has revealed in what way He is bound.

    And He has also revealed the availability of an infinite atonement available freely to all (that it is freely available does not make it “free”) who avail themselves of it.

    Another though I had reading some of the comments again: If the question is one of “in the past”, as framed in the OP, the the question is moot. The atonement covers the action pre-baptism, period.

    If we are trying to prevent our young people from engaging in premarital sex (or our older people from engaging in extra-marital sex), then I can understand why someone might, given the high stakes, resort — in an ends-justifies-the-means approach — to scare tactics (like the pine box). That said, I don’t agree that the pine box approach is the right one.

  62. ““Better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction, ‘I would rather have you come back home in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it’ ” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Second Edition, Page 124.)”

    Just one hop, skip, and a stab away from honor killing.

    I never read MOF, thankfully. I know it by reputation, and by glancing at a couple of pages in a relative’s copy. In its halfhearted defense, there is something to be said for it in the context of its times, when the conventional wisdom was trying to say that the sins of the flesh weren’t even sins at all.

    The worst sin, I believe, is the sin you never repent of. The “world” sells the lie that consent is the one and only measure of a sexual encounter’s morality. Without drawing the precise contours of what is and isn’t kosher in that department, I do believe that it’s possible for a consensual sexual encounter to degrade its participants spiritually.

    The flip side of this, ironically enough, is that the legalistic Christianity you sometimes see in Church — the notion that if you check off all the well-known boxes (Word of Wisdom, law of chastity, tithing, Church attendance), you’re good to go — may also make people overlook the need for repentance.

  63. Elder Oaks, employing legalism? It is good to know where the Brethren are coming from when they speak. I have no doubt that God is logical and consistent from an all-knowing perspective. Even so, I wonder if his adherence to a legalistic standard is as rigid as an American Attorney/Judge.

  64. I believe in a much more loving God and I think we will all be surprised by how much so (or maybe that’s just me imprinting my own hopes/feelings on God).

  65. I would rather have you come back home in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it’ ”

    When I watched Richard Dutcher’s “States of Grace”, the missionary who broke the Law of Chastity told his companion,Elder Lozano, that he couldn’t face the prospect of going home because his father had told this statement to him. When Elder Lozano replied to the effect that the statement was stupid, I wanted to cheer! Hooray for Elder Lozano, I thought. In the commentary, Mr. Dutcher stated that he hoped that storyline would put an end to anyone ever using that line. I think he may have accomplished that.

  66. Rico: “I think that Pres. Kimball’s comments are rooted in a much older tradition of atonement theory which goes back to ideas around Penal Substitution (someone else can be punished on our behalf) and Satisfaction theories (God’s honour justice must be appeased) but these I believe are based on a different concept of Justice than the one taught in the book of Mormon (restoration of good for that which is good).” BLOOEY! That’s the sound of my mind being blown, something I had not thought possible for a while. Thanks for pointing that out. I have heard the restitution atonement theory as the prevailing interpretation for so long, and it honestly makes zero sense to me. The good for good model is what makes sense to me, one reason I find “enlightenment” an appealing concept, something JS also seemed interested in exploring theologically.

    Mme Curie:
    MoF has been marginalized from what I can tell. I very seldom hear this way of thinking any more. Believing Christ is the new go-to-book. And there is a huge difference (IMO) between consensual premarital sex that took place before you made baptismal covenants and any sort of sexual sin after that event. Likewise, there’s a difference between consensual sex when single and consensual sex after marriage. The issue is the covenants being broken – IOW, that this person lacks character, breaks promises, betrays a loved one. That’s a different situation entirely. Frankly, your pre-marital BF sounds like a loser, but I wouldn’t call it rape either. Just douchiness.

  67. GBSmith #64

    “I read Elder Oakes talk and it didn’t seem complex at all. You keep the commandments and God loves you and if you don’t keep the commandments He still loves you but his hands are tied. You are SOL.”

    None of us keep the “commandments” none of us fulfil the measure of the law, If I am to attain any degree of glory by keeping the laws which govern it, I’m not worthy.

    I guess I saw my salvation being attained through the Love of Christ surpassing any claim the law might have. We demonstrate our love to him through keeping his commandments (Law), but it is not the commandments that save us, they may protect us from the world but they play no part in what kingdom we attain. It’s difficult to give a concise explanation of what my theory is but put simply, Love supersedes the Law, and I believe this plays a major role in how we approach the topic of this post.

    I’m obviously reading too much into E. Oaks’ talk, however he is so definitive in his statements we are almost invited to take them at face value.

    I’m not criticising E. Oaks’ talk I just feel I need to re-evaluate my attitude toward the atonement.

  68. #72 – Hawkgrrrl, I never intended for that to happen. If you are interested, Blake Ostler’s second book, the problems of theism and the love of God, is where I came across these same ideas. Although I like you have struggled to understand all this restitution stuff as well.

  69. I think Elder Oaks comments would have been different if he had spent time as a legal defender, rather than a State Supreme Court Justice and apostle.

    I suppose that my view of the atonement is a metaphoric one, it never made any sense to me otherwise. The jarring conflicts of Mercy, Justice, Law, Sin and bleeding in Gethsemane — all smacked of a sado-masochistic God who wanted to see me or at the very least, his son suffer. Where is the comfort in that? Obviously the Mormon religion has struggled with this concept with its history of Blood Atonement and Danites versus its expulsion of the Crucifixion and all its Mel Gibson’s Passion for whips and thorns of time from the atonement principal (the atonement happened in the Garden, granted that was a bloody mess too). The metaphor of atonement that works is a metaphor of suffering that transcends physical and mortal, temporal pain and reconciles one with not God, but our fellow sufferers here on earth.

  70. This type of moral influence theory I can accept but I also sense that there is something else happening in the Atonement. I am not convinced that Christ’s suffering makes it possible for God to forgive that is just not scriptural. However, I am convinced that a form of suffering is alleviated through such suffering and that there is a very real transfer of pain through repentance.

  71. And I would say that the transfer of pain comes through empathy, not repentance. Repentance never brought me closer to some one else, empathy always did. In a way it is a simpler concept, two commandments — love God and love your fellow humans. The repentance concept contains strong elements of empathy, especially if your actions caused another harm. There isn’t anything all that mystical about repentance — realize you did something wrong and try and fix it. They mystical is found in understanding someone else, penetrating that subjective barrier that appears impenetrable.

    In regards to sexual “sin”, I think this is why the atonement as it is practiced in Mormonism and Christianity fails. The mere act itself is elevated by the theology to something that should cause pain and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. You should feel guilt if you masturbate, you need to repent. You masturbate, you feel guilt, you repent, until biology kicks in and it is lather, rinse and repeat. Thank goodness Jesus bled from every pore, now I can pray a lot for forgiveness for flushing my sperm down the toilet.

    Empathy works entirely differently. Wow, do I remember what it was like to go through that horrific cycle as an adolescent. I’m going to do what I can to alleviate the pain and guilt associated with sex that was hoisted upon me by all those around me. Maybe I can save someone a little of the grief I experienced in my life. To me, that is the atonement in action. Jesus was an example, but it is up to us to learn to save each other — this is the strength of the religion and the metaphoric concept of atonement. The weakness is abdication to a God — real or not.

  72. It’s amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Many of the early gospels wrestled with the concept of the atonement, too – did Jesus suffer or had he transcended it already? Was he a suffering, dying man, or a triumphant, transcended God while on the cross? It’s still an interesting question.

  73. Sorry I’m late to the discussion.

    I think the real issue is that, for some reason, we have come to believe that the “point” of the gospel is absolution (or avoidance) of personal sin so we can get into heaven.

    I’m beginning to reject that premise.

    I think the real message of Jesus is about empathy, forgiveness, and renewal in the here and now. It’s not about what happens after we die. It’s about revolutionizing our lives, families, communities, and cultures in this life.

    What if Christ’s atonement has very little to do with “satisfying the demands of justice” or a literal transfer of guilt (which makes almost no sense when you think about it), and instead is about God showing solidarity with humankind? What if it’s about presenting us a physical picture of what we’re doing to ourselves and each other and God when we harm others and engage in selfish behavior? What if it is a powerful symbol intended to remind us that God didn’t create us to suffer alone in silence, but that He is with us in it — and by displaying His profound and vulnerable pain, He draws us to Him in ways He couldn’t otherwise?

    I’m weary of Elder Oaks’s limiting ideas of justice. I’m tired of the penalizing, punishing God who only blesses you when you jump through His arbitrary hoops and beat yourself up for being human. I think the real message of God’s justice is that there isn’t some cosmic scale that weighs and balances the “rightness” or “wrongness” of human actions, but as Rico said, restores good with good and bad with bad and seeks to throw away the bad through a renewing, revitalizing relationship with All That Is Good.

    Regarding the question in the OP: perhaps the idea that the atonement is just about forgiveness of personal sin is the single greatest limit we impose upon it.

  74. A quote from Everybody’s Favorite Honorary Mormon that we’re not likely to hear in General Conference:

    Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

    In other words, “carnal and sensual” are bad, but “devilish” is the one you really need to look out for. Acting like a mammal on the Discovery Channel is a second-tier sin; acting like a grand inquisitor — squashing people to maintain your elevated place is a mortal one.

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